Exposed: Hunter coal mines own entitlements to 143 billion litres water

Published: July 14, 2014

Coal mines in the Hunter region own and control huge volumes of water, are changing the flow of the Hunter River, exacerbating salinity and putting other water users in the region at risk of running salty and dry a new report has found.

The report, commissioned by the Lock the Gate Alliance, reveals that the coal industry owns entitlements to 143 billion litres of water in the Hunter and last year used more than 88 billion litres of water from the Hunter River and its tributaries, and groundwater aquifers in the region. With 13 proposed mine extensions and four new mines in the pipeline water use by coal mines in the region could grow to 133 billion litres a year.

Lock the Gate’s Hunter Regional Coordinator Steve Phillips said the volume of entitlements owned by the mines equated to more than a quarter of the total amount of water used by householders, industry and businesses across the Sydney region last year.

Mr Phillips said, “The coal industry has bought up more than half of the high security water in Hunter regulated water sources. Agricultural industries have not only been pushed out of rich farmland but may now have to struggle to compete for the water they rely on for their livelihoods. Come the next drought, it will be even harder for farmers in the Hunter than last time. Meanwhile new mines are being approved without having to prove that they will be able to meet their water needs.”

Mr Phillips said the report showed that there was an urgent need to restore balance in the region because current policy settings were putting highly productive groundwater at risk and had failed to prevent background salinity levels rising.

"Coal mines are using huge amounts of clean water to wash coal, and are cutting open aquifers, drawing down riverbeds and leaving behind huge open voids that will continue impacting on groundwater for generations to come, long after the coal has been exhausted.

"Coal mining is increasing salinity in the region by mining coal seams in saline aquifers and then discharging mine-affected water into the rivers and streams.

"The recommendations of this report are sorely needed to restore balance and ensure that the increasing dominance of the coal industry does not push agriculture and horticulture beyond the brink and out of the Hunter altogether.”

Shocking new aerial photographs of the Hunter Valley are available here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lockthegatealliance/sets/72157645208837759/ 

See a summary of the report, and share the infographics here: http://www.lockthegate.org.au/unfairshares

The full report is available online here: http://tinyurl.com/HunterCoalUnfairShares

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